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Remembering Col Yohanna Madaki: The Iconoclast, By Osa Director

To the younger generation, especially Gen Z who has very scant knowledge about Nigerias political history and the struggle for democracy and the rule of law, the name, Colonel Yohanna Madaki (Rtd.), neither might ring a bell nor strike a chord of familiarity.

This is especially so in a country like ours where the leaders are scared stiff of seeing their true reflections in minors.

The fear of viewing the ruination our so-called leaders have brought upon the country has influenced them to ban the teaching of History as a subject in our secondary schools. So, how will the younger generation learn from the lessons of history? How will they identify the ignoble roles played by those parading themselves as leaders?
Hence, it would be impossible too to learn of the heroic and patriotic efforts of the likes of Madaki.


Madaki was born in 1941, in Ziturung Kuryi, Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State. After his primary education, he proceeded to the Nigerian Military Academy (NDA), Zaria, in Kaduna State.
While in the Nigerian Army, he had the privilege and excellence to participate in the Mons Cadet Officer Academy of Alder shot, England, and was an active soldier during the Nigerian Civil War after his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant.
Being from a minority ethnic tribe in the North, Madaki learned early in life to struggle hard for all he ever desired. He was imbued with discipline, as well as the principles of justice and fairness.

Therefore, as an officer in Ibadan, Oyo State, he enrolled for a Law degree at the University of Ibadan. He graduated with a degree in Law, in 1984, and was called to the Nigerian Bar, in 1985.
When the General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, IBB (Rtd.) toppled Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.) in a palace coup, in August 1985, Madaki was appointed military governor of old Gongola State (comprising todays Adamawa and Taraba States). It was his reign as military governor that catapulted him into national prominence.

He exhibited the sterling qualities of a rare gem and patriot with a courageous heart committed to the liberation of Nigeria from poverty, underdevelopment, prejudices and traditional blinkers.

As military governor of Gongola State, Madaki was a no-nonsense officer and gentleman. He set to tackle the exploitation of the poor by the powerful traditional institutions. He made no pretences at liberating the poor and underprivileged from the suffocating grip and manipulation by the rich and powerful, who disguised as traditional rulers and religious leaders.

He was prepared to expose their underbelly and hypocrisy laced in religious dogma. He took it upon himself as a task to break the prison of ignorance and poverty that the powerful traditional and religious institutions have erected around the people in Northern Nigeria.

Consequently, Madaki railed and rooted against the Almajari system, where children of school age are sent to the streets to beg for a living under the pretence of religious training. He was against girl child marriage. Indeed, he detested the systemic exploitation of the plebians by the traditional and religious institutions in the North.
Madaki was outspoken, daring, an avant-garde of a sort. He was remarkably different and by his ideological worldview, he detested those who paraded themselves as overlords.

Therefore, it was not surprising when he, in a rare show of rage against the exploitative feudal system and against the threat that heavens would fall, he deposed the Emir of Muri, the traditional ruler of Muri. But heavens did not fall.
As a matter of fact, Madaki gleefully told the media, I have dealt a blow on feudalism. It was after such a rare act of courage in governance that prompted Newswatch magazine to describe Madaki as an iconoclast! A moniker that glued on him till death and even thereafter.

In a bid to kowtow to the traditional forces, who hitherto were untouchables, Babangida in a humiliating soft-landing tactic removed Madaki as governor of Gongola State in August 1986, barely after a year in office. He was redeployed to Benue State. But after just a month in office, Madaki was dropped from the Maradonic Cabinet of Babangida, in September 1986.

Radical and uncompromising Madaki saw through the smokescreen and could decipher the dangers ahead. He retired from the military a few months after. Armed with his Law degree, he set up a law firm in Kaduna, where he commenced his private legal practice.
As in the military, so he was in the legal practice. His law firm offered pro-bono services to indigent people, especially military officers who suffered any form of maltreatment in service.

He engaged in many fierce legal battles in the defence of the weak, especially those of ethnic minorities. He was involved in the legal battle to save former military governor of River State, Major-General Zamani Lekwot, from the hangmans noose. And he succeeded.

He was a fierce and uncompromising defender of ethnic minorities in the North. He fought for the rights of the Sayawa people in the Southern part of Bauchi State. Often times, they were attacked by unknown gunmen; incessant religious riots broke out verging on genocide against the Sayawas. But Madaki like a rock of Gibraltar, again, used the instrumentality of the law and media to seek justice and protection for them.

As a young journalist, I travelled to Tafawa Balewa Local Government Council, in Bauchi State, to unearth violence and destruction against the Sayawa people which the government of the day tried strenuously to hide, Madaki showed me the direction.
Indeed, Madaki was a journalists delight. He led me in the direction of scoop after scoop. His interviews dripped with raw courage as they were always no-holds-barred interview sessions. He gave me access to his home and office 24 hours of the day. I could call on him at anytime, and he would be there.
Madaki was one of the few voices of sanity and courage oozing from the North during the fight against military dictatorship, especially after the annulment of June 12, 1993, Presidential Election and when General Sani Abacha inflicted a rare kind of dictatorship upon Nigerians.

That was when the nation was practically and palpably polarised along the North and South dichotomy, mostly as a result of the devious propaganda by the military that June 12 was a Southern affair.
Madaki collaborated with other compatriots in Kaduna state, such as Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, former military governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, former civilian governor of Kaduna State, James Bawa Magaji, former civilian deputy governor of Kaduna State and young turks then, such as Shehu Sani and Uba Sani (now governor of Kaduna State) to terminate the termites eating at the foundation of our democracy.

He stayed loyal to the course of democracy and justice till the end. Also, he was loyal to the truth, and anyone who treaded its path. His simplicity and commitment to support anyone on the path of truth irrespective of tribe or religion were evidenced by a remarkable occurrence in the hallowed council chambers of IBBs ruling military council.
I learned that after Nigerians rejected IBBs attempt to take an International Monetary Fund, IMF loan, he put together a policy paper, the Structured Adjustment Programme, SAP, which in anyways was IMFs road map to sap Nigerias economy.
As self-styled military president, he invited the 36 military governors and service chiefs to the hallowed chambers. He reportedly dropped the policy document on the desk of everyone. It was over 200 pages.

When General IBB entered the chamber, he told all the governors and service chiefs that he would excuse them for one hour to go through the over 200-page policy document and make inputs. Expectedly, everyone nodded, yes sir! Not for Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, who was then a Major.
Umar had become somewhat of an insider critic to the administration of his boss, IBB, all to the chagrin of the hawks within the regime who wanted him silenced and dispensed with. As he was wont to, Umar pressed the buzzer.
The Commander-in-Chief ordered him to speak. Umar critically noted that it would be unfair to ask them to leaf through a policy document of over 200 pages in one hour and make meaningful contributions.

He went further to say that if General IBB had decided on a course of action to take in respect of the policy document, he should go ahead and do so, but he should not use the military governors and service chiefs as rubber stamps.
However, if truly he, IBB, wanted the genuine and indepth inputs of the governors, he should allow them take the documents to their respective states, digest and analyse it, make executive summary which they should present in their next adjourned date.
There was pin drop silence in the council chambers. As most of the governors were edgy on the next move, another buzzer sounded. It was from the direction of Madaki. General IBB on noticing that said, Madaki, I know you want to support your socialist friend, Umar.

Exactly, what he did. Babangida caved in and asked the governors to take the large volume policy document to their respective states and come with their observations and inputs on their next adjourned date.
That was typical Madaki. Bold, fearless and committed to side with the truth and those who espouse it irrespective of their tribe or religion. He was never driven or influenced by the primordial sentiments of religion, ethnicity or social status.

Madaki lived and died for a better Nigeria. But it is doubtful if Nigeria appreciates his worth and essence as a torch bearer of truth, social justice and fairness to all. He died 18 years ago, precisely 20 May, 2006.

But how was he celebrated by Nigerian politicians and leaders? How was he celebrated by and in the media? Year after year, who writes, or talks about Madaki and his legacies?
It took me 18 years to talk and write about Madaki, my friend, brother and support system in past tense, because one way I fight grief is to live in denial – a lie.
I have struggled mentally and wrestled with the truth of Madakis demise. It took me 18 years to embrace the truth and reality that he has gone to rest in the bosom of his creator. But the country cannot continue to consign into irrelevance her best patriots.
The sad reality is, our warped social value system adores materialism and those who acquire it, by hook or crook. The path of conscience trodden by men of goodwill like Madaki is a lonely path, a thankless job.

Hence, all those who genuinely seek equity, fairness, truth and justice in our polity without icing it with material acquisition must accept to be forgotten and ignored once they go six feet down, worse still even while alive.
However, it would serve a better course of history and the nations true political essence if the vision of men like Madaki is etched in gold for posterity. It then, will not be out of place if the ethnic minorities in the North and fellow compatriots across the nation organise a yearly colloquium in celebration of the life, times and legacies of Madaki.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as a product of the pro-democracy movement and struggles, should through deeds and actions immortalise Colonel Yohanna Madaki, the Iconoclast!
*Osa, a journalist and lawyer, lives in Lagos. He can be reached @Director Osa on X (Twitter)

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